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Stress: A one-two punch to the thyroid

Last month I wrote about the endocrine system and how adrenal overload can cause fatigue, weight gain, and eventually affect the thyroid. This month, I’d like to focus on how life’s stresses impede the production and utilization of thyroid hormone and what you can do about it.

You already know that long term, chronic stress is one of the most common factors for adrenal dysfunction. When adrenals suffer, it influences other related endocrine organs, such as pituitary and hypothalamus. Collectively, this is called the “HPA” axis, or the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which works on a feedback system. The hypothalamus (H) and pituitary (P) are charged with letting the thyroid know how much hormone to produce. Normal adrenal function helps all other endocrine functions work optimally, including the thyroid system. Ultimately, adrenal dysfunction plus a weakened thyroid add up to feeling tired, depressed and out of sorts.

A second hit from cortisol

Excess cortisol not only impedes thyroid production, it also inhibits its conversion to active hormone that your body requires. The thyroid makes its hormone mainly in the form of T4, but that needs to be converted to T3, the all-important active form. We need T3 for healthy metabolism, energy production, normal body temperature and other functions. This explains why your doctor should test for T4 and T3 levels, not just TSH. If tests show you have normal TSH, an abundance of T4, but low T3, it explains why you are having symptoms.

Steps to support adrenal and thyroid

Don’t be discouraged if you have been experiencing symptoms related to unmanageable stress; there’s a lot you can do with food and exercise to get back in the game! Start with these lifestyle tips first. Also add herb and nutrient supplementation since it directly helps sustain the interwoven actions of adrenals and thyroid.

Last month I talked about how adaptogens can give adrenals the reinforcement they need. The thyroid also relies on some key nutrients, especially iodine, selenium and diiodotyrosine, as essentials for making thyroid hormone. Despite getting an abundance of food in our Western diet, there are still a lot of nutrient deficiencies, including iodine and selenium. Most of us don’t eat a lot of fish or seaweed, so unless we use iodized salt, we probably aren’t getting enough iodine. Selenium is lacking in our diet because the soil our food is grown in has become depleted of nutrients, especially trace minerals like selenium.

Herbs also help the thyroid get in shape. Some key herbs that have been used traditionally are blue flag, nettle, guggul myrrh, ashwagandha and the seaweed bladderwrack. Guggul is an Indian herb and studies show that it helps convert T4 to T3, the active form. It can also help support healthy metabolism. Blue flag root is an effective thyroid detoxifier which is unusual to find in thyroid supplements.

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